If you believe some people, the NBA is as rigged and scripted as WWE and the fact that the league-owned Hornets won this year’s NBA draft lottery confirms that David Stern pulls the strings for every significant occurrence in this league. Let’s ignore how a team in San Antonio winning five championships in 14 years (you’ll see) fits into that narrative. If you believe the big brains behind HoopIdea — you know, the basketball experts who strive to save the NBA from itself — the scourge of tanking is what really threatens to destroy the sport we all love.
I’m neither for nor against tanking in the NBA, but I feel like the fact that the team with the worst record only has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery means that the odds of blatant tanking paying off are low enough that we don’t need to get worked up about it. The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats may have tanked harder than any NBA team has ever tanked, and what did it get them? Not Anthony Davis, that’s for sure. And it’s not bad luck that they didn’t win the lottery, because there was a 75 percent chance that this would turn out the way it did.
It’s not exclusive to the NBA, but it never ceases to amaze me how much people underestimate the importance of luck. Every year, fans of non-playoff teams who didn’t win the draft lottery lash out because they inexplicably feel like their team’s management should have known their team would have won the lottery if they had finished exactly where the lottery winner finished. This belief overlooks the fact that there are no guarantees in this life, aside from death and taxes. Anthony Davis is certainly the best prospect in this draft class, but there are a number of factors that could conspire against him having the best NBA career out of this crop of 2012-13 rookies.
There’s no question that you can’t win an NBA championship without a great deal of on-court skill and front office intelligence, but there should also be a complete lack of doubt that luck plays just as large a part in achieving that goal. NBA draft history is littered with “what-if” disappointments — Len Bias and Greg Oden come to mind — as well as the countless mid-to-late draft surprises who contributed significantly to multiple titles. The San Antonio Spurs would like to reintroduce you to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Clearly, tanking is not a strategy that should be encouraged in this or any other sport. But when somebody tries to tell you that tanking is some kind of perversion of the the true spirit of competition as well as a shortcut to “earning” success, make sure you show them Charlotte’s 22-60 record next season. Yeah, tanking worked out real well for them.